Saturday, September 12, 2015

America's New Deal Navy: Submarines

Above: New Deal funding in the early-1930s allowed the Navy to build 32 new ships, including four submarines. One of those submarines was the U.S.S Porpoise (P1, SS-172). During World War II, the Porpoise hit or sank 6 Japanese cargo ships, rescued five airmen in the East Indies, served as a training vessel, and earned five battle stars. The photo above shows the Porpoise with a submarine tender in Alaska in the 1930s. The numbers painted on these 4 New Deal-funded submarines seems to have started with P1, P2, P3, and P4, but then changed to 172, 173, 174, and 175 for the war. Photo courtesy of C. Peter Chen and the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Above: New Deal funding built the U.S.S. Pike (P2, SS-173). During World War II, the Pike provided bombing & shelling support, sank a Japanese cargo ship, and received four battle stars. After the war, she served as a training submarine. Photo of Pike courtesy of Wikipedia.  

Above: New Deal funding built the U.S.S. Shark (P3, SS-174). Before World War II, the Shark served as a training vessel and participated in military exercises. The Shark received one battle star during World War II and was probably sunk by a depth charge in Indonesia, in March, 1942 (her fate has never been conclusively determined). Photo of Shark courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.  

Above: New Deal funding built the U.S.S. Tarpon (P4, SS-175). During World War II, the Tarpon sank several Japanese vessels, including a freighter, a passenger-cargo ship, a troop transport, and a patrol ship. The Tarpon also damaged several other Japanese ships and sank the German raider Michel. She received seven battle stars and served as a training submarine after the war. In 1957 she was sunk off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, perhaps after being used for target practice, and now provides a habitat for a rich variety of marine life (including sharks) as the video above shows. Original YouTube link for video:

The Porpoise-class submarines shown above were described as 300 feet long, 25 foot beam, 14 foot draft, and 1300 tons displacement. They had six 21-inch torpedo tubes, deck guns, mines, 50-men crews, and were powered by diesel-electric engines. They were built at a time when the Navy had little or no money for new construction. The New Deal changed that.  

Sources of information: (1) Naval History and Heritage Command ( (2) "Lay Keel of Submarine Tomorrow," The Portsmouth Herald, October 26, 1933. (3) Rodney K. Watterson, 32 in '44: Building the Portsmouth Submarine Fleet in World War II, Naval Institute Press, 2011. (4) Federal Works Agency, Millions for Defense, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940. (5) "Executive Order 6174 on Public Works Administration, June 16, 1933," American Presidency Project, University of California - Santa Barbara.

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